PITTSBURG — Adults often ask the young, what are you going to be when you grow up?

Pittsburg High School student Nicole Konopelko would tell you she wants to be a journalist.

“Ultimately my dream is to be a journalist and I think I was put on this Earth to be a journalist,” she said in a previous article where she was set to go to an investigative reporting workshop in Boston.

To reach her goal she began writing for her school newspaper, The Booster Redux, working on opinion pieces and various news articles and Pittsburg State University’s Collegio reporting on city meetings.

“I think what mainly inspires me is really the stories I get to tell and the voice I give to my sources,” she said. “They all have very strong stories, so my only job is piecing them together.”

Nicole has covered several topics such as homelessness, road safety in Pittsburg and sexual assault.

At the Booster, she has begun to work on different disciplines within the field — branching into features and videos about students at her high school.

To enhance her experience and knowledge, Nicole has participated in workshops where she has been introduced to professional journalists. Many of whom she looks up to as role models, she said.

She entered the New England Center for Investigative Reporting Summer Workshop writing contest last year. The prize was free admission to the conference, but she made third. Luckily for Nicole, that took $500 off the $2,000 fee to attend. The community helped chip in through a GoFundMe page, raising $1,200 in donations, which Konopelko said she is thankful for.

This summer, she’ll be going to another workshop, the 2018 Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference in Washington, D.C.

For this particular event only one student from each state is selected. The application was tough, Nicole said, and she had to send in articles and write essays for the judges to review.

She also had to have teacher recommendations — which Booster Advisor Emily Smith and PHS English Teacher Emily Rountree gave.

“I give all the credit to them for helping me and being supportive,” Nicole said.

Winners receive a $1,000 scholarship towards any college of her choice, which the school of choice for her will most likely be Boston University, Nicole said.

The conference was created to honor Al Neuharth, founder of USA TODAY, the Freedom Forum and the Newseum, “for his long and distinguished career in journalism and his free spirit,” a letter to Nicole said.

“This is the best,” Nicole said. “I’m excited to be going and it’s nice to be awarded something as prestigious as this.”

She also met other students who are on the same mission to become journalists. Nicole and another student she met at the Boston conference became best of friends, he will also be joining her at Free Spirit conference representing California.

“It’s so cool and coincidental,” she said.

Nicole said she is excited to not only experience the conference and visit with her friend, but also touring Washington, D.C. and she’s still in shock, she said.

“The excitement I have for this is unending,” she said. “I could talk about it all day because I’m so excited for t this experience, I’m more than sure will change me as a person.”
For helping guide her way to being professional journalist, Nicole thanked the people who shared their stories with her.

“I really want to thank the people who allow me to the their stories because without without everything I received through them I wouldn’t have been able to receive this award,” she said.

— Stephanie Potter is a staff writer at the Morning Sun. She can be emailed at spotter@morningsun.net or follow her on Twitter @PittStephP and Instagram @stephanie_morningsun.